Rhubarb and rhetoric

Let’s call it a Christmas letter


While I haven’t updated this blog in a while, it certainly hasn’t been because I had nothing to write about. I hit the ground running when I got back to Ankara last spring and it feels at times as though I haven’t stopped since. So, since it’s year-end and I feel terribly guilty for not updating this earlier, let’s hit the highlights:

March was the month of moving, as I packed up my temporary DC life and boarded a plane back to Turkey, where I promptly jumped on to another plane to Istanbul for the wedding of two of my closest friends. Through some sort of kismet, I was able to see a significant swathe of my Istanbulfolks within my first 5 days back in-country.

I returned to Ankara in time for April and the start of my new job. In short, it is awesome. The position I ended up in seems like it was made for me, it’s a great blend of things that use my current skills and abilities and things that challenge me to develop in ways I’ve been wanting to develop for some time. It’s a lot of work, but it’s interesting, rewarding work. Of course, work environment makes a lot of difference in one’s experience, and luckily my coworkers are wonderful – supportive, funny, heartwarming people.

May brought, as you might have noticed from past posts, Eurovision! I traveled to Baku with 2 friends for several days of Europop and Azerbaijan, an unexpectedly good combination. We saw the jury final live and then watched the grand finale with a group of expats. It was cheesy, loud, colorful, and fabulous. I’d started to make plans to go to Eurovision 2013, in Sweden, but with the recent news that Turkey won’t be competing this year, that might go on hold (after initial news that Tarkan would be the Turkish entry! Those are pretty severe highs and lows).

The summer kind of jumbled into a chaotic, busy spree of new friends arriving, trips to Istanbul, house parties, dance parties, and exploring Ankara. One of the highlights was finally getting to see something that’s long been on my Turkey bucket list – the oil wrestling tournament in Edirne. Luckily, my Ankara friends and coworkers by and large were enthusiastic when I asked around whether anyone was interested in watching large groups of Turkish men wearing leather pants get covered in olive oil and then wrestle each other in a grassy field. This is how I ended up driving from Istanbul to Edirne in 1 of 2 brand-new rental Mercedes Benzes for a day of oil wrestling, followed by a leisurely day of driving along the Marmara shore and visiting a winery with six of my new Ankara friends. It was absolutely worth it – the wrestling was really interesting, we all got commemorative T-shirts, and then as a bonus we got to stroll around Edirne and visit a really charming winery (Chateau Nuzun, if anyone’s looking for a day trip from Istanbul).
Later in the summer, I had a joint birthday dance party with a friend in June, and then in July I ended up in Istanbul to see the opera Murat IV, which was shown at Topkapi Palace. The opera also is set at Topkapi. It was incredible to see operatic janissaries exiting the Topkapi gates and murder schemes played out on the palace doorstep. The Topkapi palace cats were slightly less enthused, though, and they strolled all over the stage and the performance throughout, which I think added a certain je ne sais quoi to the opera.

In August, several of my coworkers and I hopped into my car and set out for beautiful, exotic … Corum. For those of you not intimately familiar with inner Anatolia, Corum is roughly the Turkish equivalent of Bismarck, North Dakota – middle of nowhere, and it’s not even Fargo. We headed there because one coworker had read an article in a THY in-flight magazine about a gastronomy hike in the Corum area, with one particular 11-kilometer stretch which sounded delicious, as though you could hike along the trail and end up at a variety of charming local cafes and restaurants, all offering local specialties.
This is decidedly not what we found in Corum. We rolled up to the town where the gastronomy hike was supposed to start, Iskilip, and started asking around for the start of the trail. No one knew what we were talking about. We asked for any hiking or walking paths, or hiking areas. No dice. We had just driven over 3 hours to get to Corum, and my car’s air conditioning was broken, so we were not about to give up so easily. Over ice cream we regrouped and did some emergency Googling of the Iskilip area. We ended up exploring Iskilip’s castle, walking around town, trying the town’s famous sugared chickpeas, and ended up for lunch at a great restaurant where we tried Iskilip dolmasi and some sort of kebap that tasted like tacos. We never did find the gastronomy hike. On the plus side, we all now have a crazy amount of street cred in Turkey, and I can shock and amaze my Corumlu taxi drivers when tell them, “Oh, Corum? I visited there!”

This summer neatly came to a close with the bayram, and I ended up doing about a million different things over the holiday (mainly because it was seker bayram, zafer bayrami, and Labor Day all within about 2 weeks). I ended up spending about 16 hours in Istanbul, visiting friends, before jetting off to Vienna, which was a really good vacation. I stayed at a place I found on AirBnB, downloaded a Vienna travel guide to my nook, and spent several days just walking across the city, gazing at architecture and drinking coffee and white wine spritzers. I speak approximately 10 words of German, but luckily Austria has a large Turkish migrant population, so I was able to communicate with very few problems. This is probably one of the few places outside of Turkey where Turkish is useful. When I got back from Vienna, I turned around, jumped in my car with a few friends (AC was fixed by now, luckily) and headed to Safranbolu, a town about 2 hours outside of Ankara that also happens to be one of Turkey’s UNESCO world heritage sites. One of my goals for this stay in Turkey is to finally see all of Turkey’s UNESCO sites, so we explored the charming restored Ottoman town of Safranbolu on a day trip before returning to Ankara, where I repacked my bags before setting off with a friend for two more UNESCO sites – Pamukkale/Hierapolis and Xanthos-Letoon. Pamukkale was beautiful, and the ruins were incredible. I lucked out in that my travel companion was also the sort of off-the-beaten-path, make-it-up-as-you-go-along traveler that I am; we started out our exploration of Pamukkale by taking a tiny dirt path that we thought was the only way to get to the theater, only to arrive at the theater, turn the corner, and see a giant paved path coming from the other side. Whoops. The odd thing about Pamukkale is that it’s a gorgeous ruins site and also a thermal spring site, so there were surprising numbers of European tourists wandering around the agora and other ancient temple sites in minimal clothing (Speedos. What the heck people? Why are you posing on a column in a speedo??). The next day we sped off to Xanthos and Letoon – they’re two separate sites but together they are a UNESCO site. They’re surprisingly not very crowded, and it’s clear that the Ministry of Culture has put more resources into Pamukkale, but they were both stunning. Xanthos was the Lycian capital way back in the day, and both were full of hidden surprises and just very charming. At Xanthos, we again ended up off the beaten path and clambering over an overwhelming amount of ruins. It was gorgeous. On the way back to Ankara, we stopped at a town literally named “Opium Black Castle” for a delicious Ottoman lunch. Must have been the opium (n.b. there was no opium).

September brought with it another trip to Istanbul for a boat party with friends and a second trip to Istanbul for work, where I showed my Iraqi colleague where the best falafel in the city can be found. Other than that, it was a fairly quiet month, which was a good thing because then came October.

October ended up being much busier than expected. I took a trip down to Amman for work, and then at the end of the month my Dad came for a weeklong visit. We saw a whirlwind of Turkey – started in Istanbul, ended up in Selcuk, drove back over to Ankara, and flew back to Istanbul, all in a week. It was great to be able to show my dad just what I find compelling about this country (and to show off my Ankara life – this apartment is the biggest I think I’ve ever lived in). While Dad was in town, we were able to meet up with a friend of mine and his family, who also happened to be in town at the same time.

November in the Foreign Service is the month of the Marine Corps Ball, and I was so in the November spirit I went to two different balls. First I road-tripped to Istanbul with a few friends for the Istanbul Marine ball. We got our hair and makeup done at the hotel, danced the night away, and got up early the next morning to walk across the Bosporus Bridge as part of the Istanbul Intercontinental Marathon (No, we did not marathon. We did the “people’s walk.”). It was a party on the bridge, metaphorically and also literally. For part of the way, we walked next to a Korean-Turkish friendship group that was singing Gangnam Style a capella. We finished up the day by meeting up with a friend of mine from Istanbul and another friend of mine from Beijing for a late lunch at Ciya for some amazing Gaziantepli food. The next weekend I again donned my sparkly red dress and went to the Ankara Marine ball for round two of dancing and merriment. Ankara’s ball had 3 times as many people, and at this ball I actually knew a lot of the other attendees. It was also a lot of fun. The next weekend was Thanksgiving, and also featured a weeklong visit from an old friend currently living in Istanbul. I went to two different Thanksgiving dinners on Thanksgiving itself and then co-hosted a Friendsgiving on the weekend. It was a good test of my hostessing skills as well as a good way to tell which kitchen implements I needed to pick up (pastry blender and meat thermometer, mainly). We had way too much food and someone broke my balcony door, so I think that counts as a successful dinner party.
That nearly brings me up to the present. December so far has been as busy as always – seasonal parties all month, holiday baking, a lot of work as well. Last weekend I again hopped in my car with a group of friends and drove down to Konya for the Mevlana festival – after nearly 5 years here in Turkey, I finally saw the whirling dervishes and Rumi’s tomb. It was a cold day, but Rumi’s tomb was beautiful, if crowded, and the dervishes were incredible. The show started with a musical group, then a talk by a man from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism about Rumi’s teachings in today’s world, and then finally the dervishes. There were about 2 dozen dervishes, and they were ethereal. I’d never been to Konya before, but it was quite a nice city.

That brings me, finally, pretty much to today, where I’m just about to start making a green bean hotdish to take over to Christmas dinner. It’s been a long year and an overall really good year for me, and I’m hoping that 2013 is even better, for all my readers as well! Merry Christmas!